A vote for the world’s health, absent from the headlines
The World Health Organization process of selecting a new director-general moves into high gear this week. As the U.S. presidential election has held global attention for much of 2016, this is likely the most important vote the world isn’t watching. We cannot afford to ignore the WHO leadership choice, which comes in the midst of a global health crisis.
That crisis is the ongoing epidemic of health inequalities. It is an emergency that lurks beneath the headlines, existing instead in the daily realities of vast portions of the world’s population. We come from two countries, South Africa and Bangladesh, where our governments and civil society are making tremendous efforts to improve the health of our people. We have seen important strides, including scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa and unprecedented progress in child and maternal health in Bangladesh.
Yet we continue to see snapshots of huge global inequalities of health on a regular basis. In a sprawling township outside Cape Town, many residents live in wood, tin, and plastic shacks, with toilets far and few between. The latrines are often unusable and, even when functioning, unsafe for women and children to access. In isolated parts of Bangladesh, meanwhile, it is still not unusual for a woman to give birth on the dirt floor of her own home without any trained personnel present.